Newb to elevation

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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OneHalf50
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Newb to elevation

Post by OneHalf50 » Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:37 am

I live at sea level (68' IIRC). I have never hiked above about 6300' and never camped higher than probably 3000' with 1 exception. I camped at 5000' in TX and ended up with a headache and vomiting despite keeping hydrated and eating a pretty clean diet (no processed foods for the last 5 years+). I left the following day after vomiting after completing a very easy hike that day with almost no elevation gain and only about 4 miles RT.

Our son is soon to be stationed at Ft Carson (Colorado Springs area) and we are going MOBILE, FULL TIME, at the end of June. Ft Carson is just 12' shy of the summit of Mt Washington, NH. So after a trip east and north we figured to spend some time - maybe 4-6 weeks, in CO. I also do not backpack/hike in winter weather. We plan on being in AZ/NM/TX for the winter. Driving/riding in snowy weather is actually a severe trigger for my PTSD.

So here is the BIG ASK. What peaks/trails should I look at doing as we work our way around the state? We will be parked for 1 week at a time as my husband works from home and we will be "moving" only on weekends. We do have a second vehicle so I can get to THs for day hikes or overnights. I want to make sure I give myself plenty of time to acclimate. I also have NO problem with NOT hitting the peaks on my first few attempts if hiking up part way and hiking back is better for me to acclimate.
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Alpine Guy
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by Alpine Guy » Sun Mar 14, 2021 9:12 am

Since you've got weekdays available (unless I read that wrong) to avoid the crowds, Rocky Mountain National Park delivers outstanding scenery and a range of mountain elevations, along w/ generally good access. The town of Estes Park makes a good base camp. On weekends RMNP trailheads can get very crowded by mid-morning.
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TomPierce
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by TomPierce » Sun Mar 14, 2021 9:16 am

If you were vomitting etc from altitude after camping at only 5K' (could you simply have been sick instead, eg a stomach bug??) I personally would vote for a super gradual altitude schedule on your drive out here, then at least a week+ at 6K'. See how you do in the Carson area, then maybe consider hiking? Fwiw, there are lots of trails in the Colo Spgs area, easy starter trails in the Garden of the Gods and Palmer Park area. Just lots and lots of options.

-Tom
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CheapCigarMan
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by CheapCigarMan » Sun Mar 14, 2021 10:27 am

There is a research center in Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus. Their research states that altitude hits 25% of the population. I was one of them. When I moved here I was nauseous, headache, threw up. I would find myself waking up from sleeping at night gasping for air. I had a hard time. It took me 3 - 6 months before I finally lost my headache and felt normal.

If I had the opportunity to travel as you suggest. I'd spend time in each area. Colorado Springs. Durango. Montrose. Grand Junction. Aspen. Glenwood Springs. Steamboat Springs. Etc. You'll learn about each of the areas and find the trails, hikes, and drives that each of them provide.

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Gene913
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by Gene913 » Sun Mar 14, 2021 11:56 am

I agree with the responses above from Tom and Brian.
Acclimation is my annual friend since I get to reexperience it every year as a flatland (Kansas) resident who makes pilgrimages to CO for climbing.
One of the things that I learned is helpful for acclimation, at least for me, is to sleep at elevation (10,000 feet or more) for a night or two before doing a lot of climbing/hiking activity.
You may get a similar benefit by staying/sleeping for a few days in the Springs before doing much uphill adventuring. Just a thought.
As for places to explore, one of my favorite reference sources for identifying places to hike/climb in CO is "Colorado Scrambles" by Dave Cooper. It is published by the Colorado Mountain Club.
It describes routes/climbs/hikes in every part of the state.
"If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, and you say to this mountain, 'move from here to there,' it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:21
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mtree
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by mtree » Sun Mar 14, 2021 12:17 pm

Little Bear! Go big or go home.

I think you pretty much summed it all up. If a night at 5000 feet made you sick, hiking is the least of your worries. If you can't manage the steps to the bathroom you're no good anywhere else. Baby steps. Don't over think things.
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OneHalf50
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by OneHalf50 » Sun Mar 14, 2021 1:12 pm

mtree wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 12:17 pm
Little Bear! Go big or go home.

I think you pretty much summed it all up. If a night at 5000 feet made you sick, hiking is the least of your worries. If you can't manage the steps to the bathroom you're no good anywhere else. Baby steps. Don't over think things.
I definitely intend to take things slow.

And yes, someone suggested spending plenty of time acclimating at 6000' before hiking. Will definitely do that. Also plan on finding something, maybe in KS or on the border that is more around 3500' to stay before heading direct to 6000'.

I do have week days to hike and plan on weekends for our son and/or "travel" to a new area as we like to boondock where we can find free parking for our RV. Unfortunately my husband has an injury which keeps him from hiking.

And the person who asked if maybe I was sick with a stomach bug or something - don't think so. As soon as I got below 3000' the nausea went away and the headache soon followed. It was less than 24 hours I stayed at 5000'. Also, I know some won't believe me, I literally have not been sick in over 30 years. I have other issues but colds, coughs, flu, etc are just not something I get. I hope maybe that experience was NOT altitude related but since it really started when I was sleeping and then got better when I started moving about the next day and then as soon as I stopped for the day I vomited, I'm pretty sure it was altitude related.

I was thinking that once I adjust to Ft Carson area that I might attempt Pike's Peak with an overnighter at Barr Camp. Or maybe, to go along with what others suggested I just go to Barr Camp for the night and sleep there and see how I feel the next day and either descend or ascend as appropriate.
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Salient
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by Salient » Sun Mar 14, 2021 1:16 pm

OneHalf50 wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:37 am
I live at sea level (68' IIRC). I have never hiked above about 6300' and never camped higher than probably 3000' with 1 exception. I camped at 5000' in TX and ended up with a headache and vomiting despite keeping hydrated and eating a pretty clean diet (no processed foods for the last 5 years+). I left the following day after vomiting after completing a very easy hike that day with almost no elevation gain and only about 4 miles RT.
I wonder why only 5000’ caused you to get so sick? Are you sure it wasn’t a stomach bug or something like that? You still have 85% of your air at that altitude.
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dpage
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by dpage » Sun Mar 14, 2021 7:04 pm

My wife had this book before we met. It seems to be a good overview of all areas throughout the state.
the-colorado-year-round-outdoor-guide-cmc-classics_dave-muller
pw
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by pw » Sun Mar 14, 2021 7:13 pm

5000' does seem awfully low to be sick, maybe there was some contributing factor and it was a one time deal. Anyway, Great Sand Dunes NP is pretty fun. I wouldn't spend a week there, but a day or two. Also Mt. Goliath on the road to Mt. Evans, some gnarly bristlecones up there.
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by osprey » Sun Mar 14, 2021 7:37 pm

Ignore the above recommendation to have a beer before bed.
Alcohol has no beneficial effect on acclimating to altitude.
It is recommended to avoid alcohol, any sedatives, narcotics, or sleeping pills until one has been asymptomatic at a higher elevation for 48 hours.
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nyker
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Re: Newb to elevation

Post by nyker » Sun Mar 14, 2021 9:04 pm

Hard to say if there were other contributing factors to you getting ill at 5,000ft elevation vs. just the altitude itself, but nonetheless, definitely take it slow
when you come out, spend a few days hydrating and getting used to just being at 6k, 7k, 8k (average elevations of a lot of towns you'll be in). Eat lighter foods,
avoid heavy fats and reduce/eliminate alcohol since it could make you dehydrated quicker. Then once (and assuming you do) feel better after a few days,
do some easier hikes but remember take it slower and stay hydrated with both water and electrolytes.

My first few trips to "altitude", i.e. anything above 5-6k made me feel a little off also, I remember my head pounding and eyes all red for a few days each trip.
It gradually improved the more I'd come out and found it was correlated with amount of sleep and sleep quality
(a little chicken and egg perhaps also since sleep quality might be a function of the elevation as well).

Make sure you don't neglect your cardiovascular exercise before coming out. Folks will argue with me saying AMS is random, but (assuming no underlying health conditions) I feel there is definitely a positive correlation between those who have a strong aerobic base and one's ability to better acclimatize to higher elevations, and physically exert themselves (and quickly recover) at said altitude (at least up to 18,500ft, can't opine as to higher as I have not been higher than that yet).

As far as some hike suggestions, some good ones mentioned already. I'll add that many/most of the 13e/14er trails are quite nice in themselves. You might want to check those out, hike up as far as you feel comfortable, aim to reach a high alpine lake or high meadows as a milestone and re-asses. If you're not feeling great head back. If you're "feeling" it, you can attempt the summit, if not, then consider your hike as means of doing some recon of the trail so that when you hit it next time, you'll be familiar with it. One thing I'd add is that if you're planning any higher summit climbs in summer months, take care to start early to lower the risk of being caught up higher in T-storms.

Willow Lake comes to mind in the Sangres, maybe South Colony lake. The east approaches to Pacific peak/Crystal Peak are nice too. In summer, American Basin is a nice hike itself to see the wildflowers without going higher. RMNP as mentioned has some great options at various elevations, with plenty of easy "walkable" options, including nice lake hikes, etc. Once you're acclimatized, Independence Pass could be of interest and allows you to get to over 11,000ft and test yourself out on some nice walks around its summit plateau of ~12k. If you feel you could get queasy though might be better to let someone else be driving just in case. More touristy would be Maroon Bells, Crater Lake areas, though check restrictions with vehicles and required permits.
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